Lighting Controls Save Energy/Money and Enhance Security

For many years, lighting control was simply thought of as a manual switch that enabled a homeowner to turn on or off the front porch or carriage lights, or outside landscape lighting system. The problem with that control system is that someone would either forget to turn the lights on when it got dark or invariably forget to turn them off during the daytime. That inevitably wastes energy and money. Many homes today still have three or four sets of switches along the entire length of the house that someone has to manually control twice each day.

Photocells were sometimes added to control exterior line voltage lights as well as low voltage lighting systems over the years – and the lights run at full power from dusk to dawn or longer, depending on the location of the photocell. The other problem is that if you have several lighting zones, it is virtually impossible to synchronize the lights; i.e, some lights may be turning on or off as much as an hour earlier/later than other lights. Photocells work great for public or commercial properties where dusk to dawn lighting is deemed necessary for public safety/security. However, for most residential applications, a photocell is wasteful because the homeowner is paying for lighting all night long – even when they might only need it to say 11:00 PM.

Then someone got the bright idea of combining the photocell with a mechanical timer (on a low-voltage lighting transformer) or an electronic timer on a switch inside the house that controls carriage lights, for example. In the case of the low voltage lighting system, that works great until there’s a power outage and the timer no longer has the correct current time. And if you have multiple lighting zones, the lights are invariably coming on and going off at different times. The other disadvantage is that you also do not have the ability to manually turn the lights on and off from inside the house.

In the case of the electronic timer used in an in-wall switch (Intermatic is used a lot), it may work fine for one set of exterior lights but there is no way to synchronize all of the lighting circuits so that they operate at exactly the same time. Most of these Intermatic switches have been installed by do-it-yourself homeowners – and many times we’ve found that they’ve actually been unsafely overloaded.

More sophisticated whole-house automation systems have been in use in recent years including Lutron (hardwired and RadioRA), Control 4, X10 and others. The hardwired Lutron systems are typically used in large new homes over 10,000 square feet and we have many lighting systems that interface with this control system. We also have experience with Control 4 and Lutron’s RadioRA systems – both of which use wireless technology. Our experience is that the more control nodes that the homeowner adds throughout the house, the more robust and reliable the control system becomes. So if you need to send a signal over long distances and there are not many nodes in between, this wireless technology can be problematic.

We started off using the X10 control system ten years ago – but dropped it over three years ago because of unresolved technical issues. As it turns out, the X10 technology was not able to overcome the signal interference problems caused by the new electronic devices increasingly common in today’s home.

So what we’re now using for all of our residential installations is Lighting Control Automation™ (LCA) which is based on Universal Powerline Bus technology. We can control all of the low voltage lighting transformers and any or all of the interior/exterior line voltage lights from a single controller that is plugged into an interior outlet.

Once the controller has been programmed, you can plug it in and forget it. The device automatically adjusts on/off times according to the daily astronomical sunset/sunrise times for the home’s specific latitude/longitude, and it automatically adjusts for daylight savings/standard time and leap year as needed.

What once were standard “dumb” mechanical switches can be converted to Lighting Control Automation “intelligent” switches with a series of different faceplates  – that would enable you to be able to control from one to eight different other circuits throughout the house.

The beauty of the LCA system is that it can do roughly 85-percent of what a Lutron control system can do – at about one-third of the price. And the LCA system does not have to be hard-wired because it uses the existing house wiring and is an excellent choice for remodels as well as retrofits.

So what kind of applications can be handled by Lighting Control Automation? Almost anything and everything:

–  automate your front carriage lights to operate at 85-percent power to save energy and to turn off automatically; never waste power again because you forgot to turn the lights off before going to bed. This dimming level will also ensure that the carriage lights become integrated with the overall lighting effect, instead of otherwise ruining an effective design because they cause too much glare.

–  automate the lights in any room of your house and randomize the on/off times when you are away to give the house a lived-in look to deter vandalism.

–  automate a SECURE-ENTRY scenario whereby interior lights turn on when you turn into your driveway or use your garage door remote.

– automate your basement and rec-room lights so that they never get left on overnight again

–  provide a warning light to notify the homeowner that the garage door was left open before turning in for the night

–  in hot weather, automate a ceiling fan or automatically lower solar blinds to keep the house cool.

–  provide an ALL-LIGHTS ON scenario in case a noise is heard in the middle of the night.

–  if you have children who have difficulty waking during the dark mornings during the wintertime, LCA can mimic a sunrise by having a table lamp slowly get brighter over time.

The number of possible applications for Lighting Control Automation is endless, and it provides a lighting designer the ability to fully coordinate and integrate the overall lighting scene for maximum effect.

LCA Timer

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